When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, his government made its priorities clear: ““If Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was known for national highways, Narendra Modi government will be known for broadband highway,” his Communications Minister said. It might seem surprising that internet connectivity would take top priority among many other issues of national importance, but in the coming year statements like these will become more and more commonplace as we start to reach broad consensus that open and affordable broadband internet access is more a right than a privilege. One recent poll of internet users in 24 countries found that 83% of them believe that affordable access to the internet should be a basic human right. 

Already, the United Nations has stated in a report that "Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states."

Just today, in a move that recognizes the importance of the Internet in everyday life, the US government has officially classified it as a basic utility, in the hope that it remains accessible to the public and enterprises without exploitation. In this sense, Internet is beginning to be viewed as akin to essential public utilities like electricity, water, and telephone connectivity.

This change in opinion is driven by the tectonic shift in the way that people interact with the world. Everyday activities are increasingly mediated by technology and the internet – from something as simple as checking a bus timetable to more important social duties, like registering to vote. And with digital delivery of public services reaching a tipping point in 2015, the consequences of being on the wrong side of the digital divide have never been more apparent.

Of course, it’s not just individual liberties and options that are curtailed by the lack of internet access. The connectivity and tools offered by the internet builds communities, fuels economies, provides critical services and accelerates societal progress in many other broad ways. The Internet is now the principal enabling mechanism by which citizens assemble, ideas spread and economic opportunities are sowed. Without it, the oppressed are more likely to remain subjugated and the economic underclass to have minimal access to upward mobility.

As former International Telecommunication Union Secretary General Hamadoun Touré has said, “You will not be able to meet the Millennium Development goals in health without e-health, in education without e-education and government services will not be able to be provided without e-government services.”

In Switzerland, leading telecommunications provider Swisscom has already met the need for e-education by rolling out free Internet access for all Swiss schools as part of a public-private partnership. To connect the more than 6,800 primary and secondary schools, with a potential user base of over one million pupils and teachers, Swisscom needed a stable, high- performance, and reliable solution for load balancing, URL filtering, proxy management, and security, which F5 partner eXecure was able to provide with the F5 Traffic Management and Security solutions. .

Finland was the first country in the world to make broadband a legal right for all its citizens, with speed benchmarks put in place in 2010. Other nations from Estonia to Spain to Costa Rica have followed suit, defining internet access as a right or part of universal services. In the coming year, I expect countries in Asia to increasingly adopt this perspective as well, with a particular focus on mobile broadband being a key piece of the puzzle. Already we have many leaders in the region: Singapore’s Next Gen NBN, for example, has already brought high speed broadband to over 95% of the nation; South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan boast the three highest average connection speeds in the world.

This trend also means millions, or even billions, more people online in the near future. Enterprises and governments will have a tremendous wealth of new opportunities to tap into. However, they will need to be prepared to rapidly scale and adapt to a new all-digital world, all while keeping a close eye on security and privacy issues.

The Belgian government, for example, faced some significant concerns when it decided to make pension data accessible over the Internet to all employed people and pensioners in the country – it had to secure this highly personal and sensitive data from unauthorized access, and it had to ensure high performance and availability for a potential user base of many millions of people. An F5 partner worked with the agency involved to deploy a F5 application delivery solution to ensure performance and availability, including instant failover in the event of a fault, along with a robust application security module with customized processes for logging in, routing traffic between web servers, and strengthening application layer security scripted with F5 iRules.

Broadband becoming a universal right heralds a brave new world filled with big opportunities as well as certain risks – and I can’t wait.